Since 1988, the United States has recognized September 15-October 15 as National Hispanic Heritage Month. Beginning on the anniversary of the date that several Latin American countries achieved independence, the honorary month celebrates Hispanic history and culture while recognizing the contributions of Latino communities across the country.
Rochester’s Hispanic community, which now counts almost 38,000 people, dates back to the late 1800s, though Latino immigration to the area really began in earnest in the mid-twentieth century. Puerto Rican emigres were the first Latinos to establish local roots, followed by other national groups including Dominicans, Cubans and Mexicans.
Forming communities in the Upper Falls, Brown Square and Marketview Heights neighborhoods, these migrants helped shape local culture and politics through their customs and culinary traditions as well as their art and activism.
The Local History Division of the Rochester Public Library recently partnered with professors and students from Nazareth College on a project designed to shed light on the history of this community.
Dr. Isabel Cordova and Dr. Hilda Chacon of Nazareth College spearheaded an oral history project in 2011,by having students record interviews with local residents of Hispanic descent as a class assignment. Staff and interns from the Local History Division then compiled the collection of interviews and included them as part of the Rochester Public Library’s Rochester Voices website.
Emblematic of local demographic trends, the majority of the participants in the Latino Oral History collection have Puerto Rican backgrounds, but Rochester area residents with roots in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Colombia and Mexico are also represented.
Participants’ stories cover a substantial time span—ranging from those who witnessed the local Puerto Rican community’s formation in the 1950s to those who relocated to Rochester in recent years.
Their life experiences also highlight a host of different topics and themes relevant to the Latino community,including immigration struggles, educational challenges, community activism, racial tensions, the role of religion and the importance of music and cultural traditions. A considerable number of interviewees also touch on questions of identity and what it means to be both Latino and American.
Collectively, the stories comprising the Latino Oral History collection highlight the diverse and multifaceted history of Rochester’s vibrant Hispanic community.
This invaluable resource is one of several collections hosted on Rochester Voices. The educational website, designed to engage both students and the general public, will have its official launch party on October 1st from 2-4pm in the Local History Division of the Rundel Library.
For a sneak preview, readers can access the Latino Oral History collection and the Rochester Voices website via this link: